Health, International News, News

COVID-19 Odds and Ends

By Michael Decker
4 minute read

The Vaccine

The world awaits a COVID-19 vaccine, development of which is underway by more than 100 companies worldwide. Thus far, the most promise had been shown by a vaccine developed by AstraZeneca in cooperation with Oxford University. The vaccine has entered late stage trials in the US, according to a recent CBS news report. Pfizer, another global giant working on a vaccine, has provided little news of late, but its offering has apparently not failed to prevent more than 77% of COVID cases, which is the benchmark required at this stage of the work.

Pfizer, another global giant working on a vaccine, has just provided news that it prevented infection in 90% of a relatively small sample group of 94 participants. This sounds promising, and full details may be found here.

If you are interested, you can find full coverage and a vaccine progress tracker at the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society.

But did you know the parameters under which vaccines are developed? As a layperson, I was under the impression that vaccines were intended to build immunity in the population and to hamper the spread of disease. This is not the case, according to virologist Dr. William Haseltine. In an interview with the Seattle Morning News, Haseltine clarified the criteria under which vaccines are developed:

“First of all, I think most people expect the vaccine to prevent infection. That is not a criterion for approval of these vaccines. In fact, they assume that everybody — vaccinated or not — will be likely be infected. The measurement for success is what is the difference in the symptoms of those who are infected. That very criterion tells you that they expect everybody to be infected in both arms of the trial vaccinated or not. That probably is an eye opener for most people,” he said. You can read the full article here.

Eye opener indeed. This information, if correct, calls into question the overall public health benefits of all vaccines, not just those developed to mitigate symptoms for COVID-19. While the concerns raised by those skeptical about vaccines have generally been shouted down, including through comments like those made by Hillary Clinton on the cusp of her failed Presidential bid, “The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork.” I guess it depends what the definition of “work” is?

Call me a skeptic, but it seems doubtful that there ever be an effective vaccine, given the pernicious nature of the virus. Pharmacology has, to my knowledge, never developed an effective vaccine for the family of viruses from which COVID-19 has evolved, which of course includes SARS. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that the mental horsepower put into cracking this deadly particle will yield unexpected benefits, such as new anti-virals, whose development has lagged. Ultimately, the best thing which can emerge from the tragedy of 2020 are better international cooperation and public health measures to ward off the next infectious wave to hit the globe.

The True Cost of COVID-19: Mortality and Dollars

On other COVID-19 related news, a recent article by David Cutler and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers called the virus “the greatest threat to prosperity and well-being the US has encountered since the Great Depression”. The authors go on to discuss the sobering toll the virus has taken on our lives and economy. No developed nation will have witness economic growth this year. More than 200,000 people have died in the US alone. If current rates continue, the US will suffer more than 625,000 dead due to the pandemic. With economic statistics able to place a dollar sign on human life, each one being worth $10 million (consider that the next time you buy life insurance), the cost in lives alone will be over $6 trillion. Add to this the significant costs of those who survive COVID-19 but who are left with ongoing health issues and we have an additional $2.6 trillion forecast. The cost of COVID-19, a price tag of $16 trillion for the US is the equivalent of 90% of the country’s annual GDP. Staggering, for sure, and to be quite honest, my guess is that this assessment is a conservative one. Read the full article here.

Where is there a silver lining?

Australia and New Zealand have both achieved remarkable successes, and outside of China, are the only nations to have seemingly overcome the long odds of stopping the virus. While their approach has not been perfect, the Australian government quickly adopted measures which have proved successful. Among their approaches: a travel ban which closed the borders to all foreign visitors, the closing of all bars, cinemas, gyms, and places of worship indefinitely began in March, and the restriction of restaurants and cafes to take-away service only, and public gatherings – initially limited to 10 people, were eventually restricted to just two. Obviously, many nations have adopted similar approaches, but it seems like the timely enforcement of these measures and the buy-in from the public who abided by the rules, have paid huge dividends for the Aussies. Out of a population of 25 million, the total count of COVID-19 cases in Australia is under 7,000 and several regions have reported no new cases for weeks. Kudos to the land Down Under, and let’s hope that the naysayers who decry such public health measures in the name of freedom think more about personal responsibility and the value of human life in the future.

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